A Triangular Tour of Alabama


Let it be said that Southern Studies students don’t believe in slowing down towards the end of a road trip! We went to three cities today, and each place was a pivotal location in Alabama during  the Civil Rights movement- Montgomery, Selma, and Birmingham.

We started in Montgomery at the National Memorial for Peace and Justice which remembers the victims of the period of domestic terrorism that prevailed in the United States (especially the Southern States) from 1877 to 1950.  We encourage you to read more about this remarkable place and the work being done by Bryan Stevenson’s Equity and Justice Initiative.  The markers were arranged by state and county, and we were able to find the marker for Thomas Ship and Abraham Smith who were murdered in Marion, Indiana in 1930.  Significantly, there is no memorial to this horrific event in the city of Marion itself, just as there are no memorials to many of these victims in other locations around the country.

EJI has made replicas of all the markers, which lie just outside the monument, in the hope that they will be claimed and erected by the communities that live around the sites of these lynchings.  We thought it would be wonderful if we Hoosiers would take advantage of this opportunity to reflect on our own past.

in mem

From there it was an hour’s journey to Selma, the site of Bloody Sunday on March 7th 1965.  The notorious incident, captured on film, provided the impetus for passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, one of the landmark civil rights bills of the 1960s. We were able to walk the Edmund Pettus Bridge and visit the interpretive center located at the foot of the bridge.

selma group

We drove back to Birmingham to say goodbye to Maisie as she headed off for a family wedding.

bye maisie

And finally, we toured Kelly Park and the 16th Street Baptist Church, important sites during the struggle to desegregate the public facilities in Birmingham in 1963; and then climbed to the top of one of the emblems of Birmingham – the Vulcan Statue.

After a delicious dinner at Chuck and Mary Johnson Butterworth’s home, we started driving North back to Tennessee. We’ve almost come full circle on this tour, and we are excited to share our adventures! See you soon, panthers!


Martin, Museums, and Montgomery


Maya Quote

This morning we bid adieu to New Orleans and the color and charm of the French Quarter. Driving east across Lake Ponchartrain and the bayous of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama before turning north toward Montgomery, we were reminded of the vastness of the South. It is a region the size of Europe—and how many different faces of the Southern landscape we have seen over the course of the past week.  Enroute we stopped for some brunch where some of the students had the opportunity to sample the “delicacies” of Waffle House for the first time.

Southern breakfast

We arrived in Montgomery just in time for our appointment at Dexter Church where Martin Luther King Jr. was pastor (at the tender age of 25) from 1954-1960.  The Church serves as both a museum during the week and active place of worship at the weekends.  It is a warm and friendly place, and it is always a delight to visit.  We arrived at the tail end of a rainstorm and were greeted with hugs and welcoming words from the tour guides.

Dexter group


Tomorrow, we will visit the memorial associated with the museum, before heading a little further north to BirminghamEJIam.

Big Day in the Big Easy




“Madame Lily Devalier always asked “Where are you?” in a way that insinuated that there were only two places on earth one could be: New Orleans and somewhere ridiculous.” – Tom Robbins

We made it to New Orleans and spent the morning eating delicious, sugary beignets, drinking chicory coffee, and visiting with old friends! We were so glad to see Grayson!


The rest of the morning was spent exploring the various activities, entertainments and museums that New Orleans has on offer.  Some of us went to the World War II Museum, some to the Cabildo to look at a special exhibit on the Battle of New Orleans, some did a little shopping, and some even decided to do a spot of fishing in the Mississippi!

Charlie fishing

After lunch, we headed out to the Whitney Plantation, which is about a 50 minute drive west of New Orleans, along a stretch of the Mississippi that was a center of sugar production in Louisiana

.  There are many famous plantations in the vacinity such as Oak Alley and Laura, but the Whitney is special because it tells the story of plantation life exclusively from the perspective of the men, women, and children who were enslaved.  Statues of small children appear standing and seated around the buildings, serving as a constant reminder of the human cost of slavery.

Our docent was very knowledgable  and gave us a vivid impression of the workings and explotative nature of the plantation.  Our students were attentive, confidently answered her questions, and showed enormous repect for the difficult history of the place.

whitney group

It was a short drive back to New Orleans for dinner and a last roam around the city.  Tomorrow, we start our northbound journey back to Indianapolis.

Notes From Natchez


“I’ve always loved magnolia trees and their blooms—there’s something so beautiful about a magnolia blossom. It demands attention, and you can’t help but love those big, creamy petals and that fragrant smell.” – Joanna Gaines


Although late in the season, the Magnolia trees around Natchez were still full of blossoms when we walked through the historic district this morning,  You can find them everywhere growing along the streets, in public parks, and in private gardens where they peer over the walls.  They are not dainty flowers, they are huge and bold and strike a pose next to the rich, hunter’s green leaves that surround them.

Natchez is a picturesque and somewhat sleepy place these days. Like Vicksburg, it sits on a high bluff that overlooks the Mississippi and there is much interesting architecture from the various periods of American history that testifies to the former wealth and opulence of the city. Part of that wealth was due to the fact that Natchez was the second biggest market in the Domestic Slave Trade Industry. There is a little signage and a tiny memorial (slave manacles set in concrete) that acknowledges its role, but the shabby wooden buildings at the Forks in the Road, a crossroads that once housed the auctioneer rooms have long since gone.

We spent our morning exploring and taking in the ambiance of the town, and then stopped for lunch in a quirky, conversation-provoking establishment on the outskirts. The entrance to the restaurant took the form of a stereotypical, “mammy” figure with a kerchief and a voluminous skirt. There is no doubt that it was a relic from an era that was extremely comfortable in displaying overt racist symbolism, and it lead to good observations from our students regarding the intersection of race, gender, and history.


Finally, before leaving Natchez, we visited Melrose Plantation, which is now owned by the National Park Service. The classic Greek revival house and the grounds were built in the 1840s.  Unusually, the rooms contain all their original furnishings, including an enormous wooden fan that sits about the dining table. The museum staff and curators have done careful work in restoring some of the slave cabins on the property, and the information they provide about the institution is honest and well-documented. Still, the focus of a visit there is to see the house and learn about the family that owned it.  It will be interesting to contrast the experience with our visit to Whitney Plantation, which is a museum dedicated to the memory of the enslaved men, women and children that worked and died there.



We made it to New Orleans last night and got our first taste of creole cooking at The Gumbo Shop.  The French Quarter was full of energy and excitement, and now we are looking forward to a closer look over the next couple of days!

Delta Blues and the Blue and Gray

“Yes I know the blues had a baby, and they named the baby rock and roll.”

Muddy Waters

One of the defining experiences of the day was observing the marked shift in climate, geography, and culture with every mile that we drove further into the Southland. Our first stop today was at the Delta Blues Museum in Clarksdale, Mississippi. Clarksdale is one of several places in the Mississippi Delta that lays claim to be the birthplace of the blues. Housed in the former rail station on the edge of downtown, the museum houses an extensive collection of artifacts and informative signage from some of the best known figures in blues including Robert Johnson, BB King, and, of course Clarksdale’s own son, Muddy Waters.  One of our students was delighted to find the brick her family had bought several years ago to help support the museum! It was a great start to our day in the Delta.

Delta Blues

From Clarksdale we drove through the heart of Mississippi farm country, and we were surprised at how similar the land looked to rural Indiana: flat; and expansive fields of green for as far as the eye can see, broken only by the occasional grove of trees, farm-house, or silo. Of course, the presence of rows of cotton plants, so pervasive in the Delta, reminded us of our location.  Some of our students were also delighted to see kudzu for the first time and commented on the way it draped itself over trees and smothered structures giving the landscape a strange Dr. Seuss-like appearance. As we got further South, Spanish moss began to make an appearance for the first time.


When we arrived in Vicksburg, we ate lunch at a place with tons of local color, owned and operated by a Hoosier of all people. But with smothered catfish etouffee, rice, and greens as a menu staple – it was clear that we weren’t in the Midwest.  Some friendly locals were happy to give us all kinds of advice on what to see and where to go on our brief visit. We walked over to a small antique store (where one of our students got to ride a tractor) and then to the Yazoo and Mississippi Valley Railroad Museum where a wonderful docent prepared us for our visit to the Vicksburg Military Park. The museum had an amazing diorama of the battlefield as well as model train and ship exhibits.  We saw an incredibly detailed minature of the ironclad warship, the USS Cairo, which was recovered from the bottom of the Mississippi River in 1956 after being underwater for almost 100 years.


It was a hot and muggy afternoon, perfect for touring the battle field and getting some small sense of the conditions under which the soldiers labored and fought. The real USS Cairo is on display at the park and has been partially restored to its wartime condition.  The size and complexity of the ship, which was powered by a steam powered paddle wheel was most impressive.

From there it was on to the battlefield, which spanned nine miles, encompassing Vicksburg.  It is heavily memorialized, as so many Civil War battlefields are.  We saw many monuments to various Indiana regiments; however, the Illinois memorial was by far the most splendid and captivating in its Classical style and the sweeping vistas it offered of the battlefield.

Our last leg of the journey was to Natchez, through some cooling rains. In fact, when we arrived at our hotel for the night, perched high atop a bluff overlooking the Mississippi, it was surprising comfortable for a June afternoon. And certainly the view was spectacular!


One of our students celebrated her 16th birthday in style as we watched the sun set over the river and enjoyed a nice dinner in our hotel restaurant.



A River Runs Through It – Memphis Musings


The Mississippi River Empties Into the Gulf…

and the gulf enters the sea and so forth,
none of them emptying anything,
all of them carrying yesterday
forever on their white tipped backs,
all of them dragging forward tomorrow.
it is the great circulation
of the earth’s body, like the blood
of the gods, this river in which the past
is always flowing. every water
is the same water coming round.
everyday someone is standing on the edge
of this river, staring into time,
whispering mistakenly:
only here. only now.

It has been a very busy second day! As we arrived in Memphis, we drove by a large park with a marble pedestal surrounded by a chain-link fence. Curious, we stopped to investigate and discovered that we had stumbled upon the site of one of the current struggles over the legacy of the Confederacy in the South. The pedestal had, until recently, supported a massive equestrian statue of Nathan Bedford Forrest, one of the legendary generals of the Confederacy—and an early leader of the Ku Klux Klan. However, recent events— including the Charleston Massacre in 2015 and the Charlottesville demonstrations in the Fall of 2017–have prompted a re-examination of how the Civil War is memorialized south of the Mason-Dixon Line. Memphis has had to reconsider the best way to remember the complex legacy of people such as Forrest, and this has been extremely difficult.  The statue had to be removed in the middle of the night to avoid an expected uproar. Complicating matters further, we were very surprised to learn from a friendly local the pedestal doubles as a sarcophagus, as it contains the remains of Forrest. While the statue is gone, the status of the pedestal/sarcophagus is being worked out in the courts. The action did not come without political repercussions, as the Tennessee legislature stripped $250, 000 from its budget that was intended to help defray some of the costs of Memphis’s bicentennial celebration in 2019.  Once again, it is a potent reminded of William Faulkner’s observation that in the South, “the past is never dead. It’s not even past.”
IMG_4397On leaving Forrest’s remains, we heard a series of loud “pops” followed by an enormous cracking sound and a crash.  It sounded like an explosion! A enormous branch from one of the trees had just fallen down! A little spooky… Was Forrest causing disturbances in the forest?
After that adventure, we headed to Sun Studios to learn about American Record Producer Sam Philips and the early days of Rock and Roll. Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Johnny Cash all got their start at Sun. It’s a interactive tour and our kids had some fun posing with the original mike.
Our visit to Memphis would not have been complete without touring the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel, which is located at the site of Dr. Martin Luther King’s assassination.  This year, they are marking the passing of 50 years since that tragedy.
We ate some fabulous food at Central BBQ and then headed over a few blocks to take
had our first peak at the mighty Mississippi –  a river that forever defines and redefines the Southern landscape and Southern history.
On our way to our final stop at the Ernest C. Withers Museum on Beale Street, we passed a marker that memorialized the incredible work of Ida B. Wells who worked as a journalist in Memphis. She courageously sought to expose the injustices of lynching in The Red Record.
At the Withers Museum, our enthusiastic and friendly guide, Veleska Lipford, told us all kinds of amazing facts about the famous Civil Right’s photographer (he left 1,800,000 of his pictures when he died)!

As we walked back to the cars to drive down into Mississippi, the flashy, neon lights of Beale Street illuminated the night.  Music pulsated through the atmosphere, and there was a palpable excitement in the air as the Sunday night party atmosphere began to build.

Alas, not for our group… We were off to our hotel and to bed.

Tennessee Travels

Hattie B Flag

Day One – Nashville

“Country music is three chords and the truth” Harlan Howard (1927-2002)

We’ve spent the last two weeks studying various cities in the South, building our knowledge and unpacking our stereotypical understanding of the region.  We have cooked biscuits and jambalaya, talked about the politics of cornbread, and the human cost of sugar.  We’ve explored Southern musical genres, studied Southern photography, Colonial art, and looked at maps with a critical eye. At long last, we are ready to go and spend some time in the locations we have examined.

SS departure

Our adventuresome band of fourteen students set off to the upper reaches of Dixie at about 8:30 Saturday morning. It was already warm and steamy when we left Indianapolis, and by the time we rolled into Nashville, around noon local time, the mercury was well into the 90s. On days like this, we do occasionally wonder why we had not designed a class that centers on the study of New England. But a day in Nashville reminded us of why the South is so compelling. After lunch at a variety of locations in a trendy neighborhood called the Gulch, we headed over to the Country Music Hall of Fame, which recently moved into an expansive and impressive new building that is in the heart of the Music City. The Hall offers attendees a rich examination of the origins, history, and contemporary significance of one of the most popular genres of music in contemporary America and that traces its roots to a variety of musical influences unique to the South. Adjacent to the Hall is the Hatch Show Print Company, a business started in Nashville in 1879, and dedicated to producing individually designed, colorful prints to advertise shows and performances in Nashville as well as elsewhere throughout the country.

After touring the Country Music Hall of Fame and using the print blocks at Hatch, we took a short walk to the famous, newly renovated, Ryman Auditorium. Time didn’t allow us to go on a tour, but our route did take us past some of the more colorful HonkyTonk establishments on Broadway!


A suitable conclusion to a full and hot day was a visit to the legendary Hattie B’s for some Hot Chicken.  We were eager to compare it to the chicken we had eaten earlier in the week at Joella’s. While the ambiance of Hattie B’s won the competition hands down – we are pleased to report that Indianapolis can produce some mighty fine chicken!